Welcome to winter! Wake up in the morning, head out to the barn to the horses, and that blast of icy air hits you. I love it! Drop hay, then grain, crack the ice in the non-heated water buckets, and you are on your way to working up a sweat. Within a few hours it is 50. What gives Mother Nature?! That feels like a 30 degree swing! How am I supposed to comfortably dress for that and not look and feel like the Michelin Man melting?!

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The art of layering. That is the answer to those super cold and/or wildly swinging temperatures we occasionally see. There is definitely a trick to layering for winter versus donning one of those super heat onesie zip up the front suits that Randy puts on in A Christmas Story.

Start with a long sleeve, technical fabric top for your base layer. Something more fitted is best, because it reduces bulk and makes the additional layers fit more comfortably. The technical fabric will help keep you drier when sweating. Ever try running in warmer weather in a cotton t-shirt? Yeah, that heavy and wet feeling of that t-shirt is not exactly conducive to wicking sweat away and keeping you warmer in the winter.

Next, I like to add a pullover type top. Something lightweight yet warm. That bulky Saturday favorite sweatshirt is super comfortable, but probably not the best for layering when outside in the cold. Think ¼ zip soft pullovers or a light to mid weight sweater. Nothing overly bulky, because again, by the time you finish layering you want to be able to move.

Now top off the pullover or sweater with a vest. I love a vest, because you have additional warmth around your core without the restriction of another layer on your arms. Technology in fabrics has created some insanely lightweight clothing that is extremely warm.

Finally, the jacket. At this point, you have on 3 layers. The jacket is your fourth and top layer. Jackets filled with down tend to be super warm and lightweight. I prefer to keep this last layer slightly less fitted, but certainly not so big that it could double as a blanket for the pony. Again, a technical fabric is a benefit, because it also repels wind and water.

Of course, I have completely ignored the obvious – hats, gloves and scarves. Put a hat on your head! Something wooly, not just a baseball cap. If you don’t think wearing a hat helps to keep your warm, visit my parents’ house sometime. It is always an Arctic blast, and I routinely wear a hat to stay warm without having to dress like I am outside. Avoid gloves that will not repel water. After your fingers turn blue and freeze from the water splashing as you cracked ice in water buckets, you will wish you had never even heard of cotton.

As to your bottom half, well, good luck. Riding horses in the winter, especially without an indoor arena, can be tricky at best. There are several breeches out that have a water and wind repellant outer layer with a lining to keep you warm. I love those, because again, it is not overly bulky. However, I have been known to throw a pair of ski pants over breeches if need be. It’s not perfect, and I couldn’t imagine doing anything but hacking, intervals or hills with that bulk, but it works.

What to take away from this little trip down layering lane? Layering traps heat better than one giant bulky coat. Cotton is your absolute enemy in weather, warm or cold, if you are going to sweat. More fitted clothing will allow you freedom of movement while still keeping you warm. You can even add multiple base layers given the lack of bulk. The vest is definitely your friend, and I have quite frequently worn two vests as my third and fourth layer in super cold weather – one fitted and one slightly less fitted, usuallyfilled with down. When Mother Nature decides to get a little crazy and we have wildly swinging temperatures, within a few hours you can start peeling off the layers. If you have that Saturday morning sweatshirt and pony blanket jacket on, well, you don’t have much to peel off as your body temperature changes, and the last time I checked, riding as Lady Godiva seemed extremely uncomfortable for everyone. Have a fabulous winter!

Lauren Dunlap owns Black Petticoat, a clothing and accessory shop for the equestrian lifestyle. Find her in Tryon, Wellington and always online.